Sep 072012

Editor’s Note: With the exception of PFT, most football sites will not be inclined to carry this story, but since we are primarily educators who happen to run an NFL fan blog, this is exactly the kind of story we are interested in. And while this site will not take positions in elections, or identify as a right or left leaning site, party affiliation is a natural part of this particular story. Never the less, Gridiron Rats does not endorse any political party or candidate.

Brendon Ayanbadejo is a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and is a three-time Pro Bowler. He has maintained an active political presence, advocating for passage of the FIT Kids Act and for the legalizing of same sex marriage. This latter point in itself is not newsworthy, as gay marriage is a hotly-debated topic in our society. Many conservatives have even begun to recognize gay marriage as a civil rights issue, and a generational divide seems to have been created among conservatives over the acceptance of gay marriage, with the younger generation being far more tolerant of different lifestyles.

Yet Ayanbadejo’s views have drawn the wrath of one Maryland legislator, who has gone as far as to ask the Ravens to shut him up. Maryland house of delegates member Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore County, wrote the following letter to Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens on August 29:

Dear Mr. Bisciotti:

As a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens Football fan, I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendan Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically, as a Raven Football player. many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.

I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

Please give me your immediate response.


Emmett C. Burns

I have several reactions to this letter.

First, Mr. Burns has CAPITALIZATION issues. Sir, if you are a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly, please learn how to write a business letter.

Second, and far more seriously, I am utterly appalled (to use Mr. Burns’ term) that a government official would seek to deprive a citizen of their right to free speech. It is universally understood that Mr. Ayanbadejo was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the organization. The fact that he has a higher profile than most citizens does not mean that he sacrifices his right to free speech. If Mr. Burns in unable to comprehend that simply reality, then I must question his fitness for public service.

Third, Mr. Burns’ letter is transparent in its bigotry, given Mr. Burns’ vote against the Civil Marriage Protection Act, a law allowing same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license in Maryland. And if Mr. Burns’ was truly concerned for representing his constituency, as a Democrat, then he might want to consider his party’s own platform stance on gay marriage. Simply put, this was a narcissistic attempt to shut someone down that he doesn’t agree with.

Ayanbadejo’s response to the controversy has been incredibly professional. “Just what our country was founded on, for someone to try to take that away from me, I was pretty surprised that something like that would come up, especially from a politician,” Ayanbadejo said. Regarding his political view, Ayanbadejo is unapologetic. “I just thought it was important because it’s an equality issue. I see the big picture,” Ayanbadejo said. “You know, there was a time when women didn’t have rights, black people didn’t have rights, and right now, gay rights is a big issue and it has been for a long time. And so we’re slowly chopping down the barriers to equality. We have some minority rights we have to get straight and some gay rights, then we’ll be on our way — because ultimately, the goal is to be the best country that we can be and we’re always evolving. You just look back to where we came from, and we’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.”

The response of the Baltimore Ravens has been commendable. Team President Dick Cass issued a statement stating, “We support Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.” It’s both heartening and sad that a football team president gets that concept better than a state legislator.

Ayanbadejo said that Cass has been equally supportive of Ayanbadejo in private. According to Ayanbadejo, “He [said], ‘We’re in support of you, and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel… But Dick personally told me that we’re not an organization that discriminates…”

At the end of the day, this Patriots’ fan is proud of the way that the Baltimore Ravens have handled this situation and even more proud of Brendon Ayanbadejo for speaking his mind about an important issue in our society. He has been nothing but professional and respectful, and there is a certain state legislator in Maryland who could learn an awful lot from Ayanbadejo’s character.

UPDATE: Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe, always known to be a colorful character has written a brilliant response to Mr. Burns. It is hysterical.  The letter is jam-packed with sarcasm, of which this is my favorite little gem:

Kluwe: “I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Well said, Chris. Well said.


Ghost Rat

Football fan and longtime follower of the New England Patriots. Happily married father, professional, and author.

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